Thursday, January 15, 2009

TV Critics Getting Rough With "NASCAR Wives"

The Television Critics Association winter press tour is in full swing out in Los Angeles, CA. This year a NASCAR TV series is one of the new shows being presented as a high-profile entertainment property for 2009.

NASCAR Wives is a hybrid show that entertainment folks like to call a docusoap. That means that the people appearing in the program are real, but some of what viewers will see is staged for the cameras. The dreadful Real Housewives of Orange County is an example of this style of TV program.

This type of show was made famous by MTV series like The Real World and provides a unique but rather distorted look at a group of people who have something in common. Where the NASCAR Wives show is concerned, exactly what the actual participants have in common is not quite clear.

Needless to say, the reaction from some mainstream entertainment critics has not been very kind. Here is an excerpt from Jonathan Storm of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

TLC once stood for The Learning Channel. Now, it's just The Lousy Channel, as the network, desperate for viewers, has turned into a freak show.

President Eileen O'Neill cooed proudly about Jon and Kate Plus 8 (a family with twins and sextuplets); 17 Kids and Counting, in which Mom and Dad keep cranking out the kids (they're up to 18 now), and about dwarf-o-thon Little People, Big World.

Now the network proudly presents NASCAR Wives. "The drama on the track is nothing compared to the lives of these wives," O'Neill crowed, before she introduced three of the ladies.

One of them is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s sister, Kelley, not his wife, but who's counting? "I've been a wife," she said, but now she's divorced, just like her daddy, who had three different wives.

TLC will probably get a show going on NASCAR divorcees any day now.

The gals spouted a lot of NASCAR propaganda while talking up the excitement of loving (and apparently getting sick of) guys who go round and round real fast.

"NASCAR has made significant strides in their safety initiatives," Kelley Earnhardt proclaimed, even if they did come a little too late for her dad, who was killed in a 2001 crash at Daytona.

"I know that my dad died a happy person because he was doing what he loved to do," she said. "So that makes me feel better."

Meanwhile, back in Mooresville, NC it has not gone without notice that camera crews are following around some local residents. Here is an update from Megan Pillow of Media General's News Service:

The Mooresville area and some of its race drivers’ wives will be featured later this month in a new cable TV series. The TLC channel will premiere a new reality series called “NASCAR Wives” on Jan. 24, following the Miss America Pageant, according to the Hollywood Reporter. A full season of the show is slated to appear sometime in the spring.

Area residents Lindy Hornaday, wife of race driver Ron Hornaday and owner of Mooresville’s Miss Estelle’s Place antique store; Kelley Earnhardt, sister of Dale Earnhardt Jr.; and Shana Mayfield, wife of Jeremy Mayfield, are all expected to appear.

Kim Saragoni, co-owner of Four Corners Framing and Gallery, said Thursday the TLC film crew was in town “with all of their booms and lights” for at least two days, following Hornaday as she volunteered to decorate Christmas trees in John Franklin Moore Memorial Garden and following Mayfield for a lunch at Soiree restaurant.

“They shadowed each of the wives for an entire day,“ said Saragoni.
The crew, said Saragoni, even stopped into Four Corners for some filming while they were in town.

Over at the popular Yahoo! Sports blog From The Marbles, Jay Busbee was already vowing to skip the first show and the entire series. His view is that this is the lowest form of TV and appeals to an entirely different kind of fan base:

Networks love this kind of “reality television” because costs are low compared with traditional series – and because viewers seem to have an insatiable appetite to watch other people engage in stunts along the lines of shopping, stammering, sighing and furiously abusing cell phones.

The NASCAR Media Group will be producing the series from the company's base in Charlotte, NC. NMG's chief Jay Abraham recently commented on the project:

"NASCAR is a family sport and a traveling road show, with a tight knit group of competitors barnstorming the U.S.," said Abraham. "Throughout a 10-month season, the drivers' wives are the glue holding together each racing family. They are strong and independent women with their own ambitions and goals who maintain their individual identities while supporting their highly visible husbands. NASCAR Wives provides an honest and emotional peek into their experience with our sport."

With all the different opinions on this type of "outside the box" NASCAR TV programming, it should be interesting to see if the general public, the hardcore racing fans and loyal TLC viewers will find this content interesting enough to make NASCAR Wives a hit.

What are your thoughts on this type of program and do you intend to watch the debut episode?

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Elliott Sadler Talks To The Media At Last

It was NASCAR that arranged to have Elliott Sadler on a teleconference with the media Wednesday afternoon. Sadler's long silence on a wide variety of issues that have been dominating the NASCAR news was finally going to be broken.

It was a little over a week ago that TDP asked if anyone had seen Sadler on TV. You can click here to read that original column.

In addition to Sadler's driving duties, he is a SPEED TV personality who is a panelist on the Trackside program after Darrell Waltrip leaves the show when the Fox portion of the Sprint Cup season is done.

Down the stretch, Sadler is given the weekly opportunity to question his peers while wearing his "TV hat." Trackside host Steve Byrnes allows Sadler to speak freely and interview NASCAR personalities of all types who appear on the program. On this Wednesday, Sadler was going to be on the receiving end of the media questions.

Sadler was upbeat and happy about his situation now that things have sorted themselves out. While he tried to focus on the upcoming season, the media had other ideas.

Claire B. Lang from Sirius XM was very upfront with her question about how a driver can go back to driving for the very team that supposedly fired him only several weeks ago. Sadler said it was wrong to say "the team didn't want him." The source of the problem, according to Sadler, was the team's lack of performance and winning in the Sprint Cup Series.

Jay Hart from Yahoo! Sports followed-up and asked Sadler how he had discovered that he had been released. Sadler was frank in saying that one issue discussed in the post-season was changing the driver of the #19 car. When GEM moved in that direction, Sadler sought legal relief for advice on how to proceed. He still maintains that the team has come together recently and is focused on Daytona and the season.

Sadler constantly told the media he was being honest with them. It was important to him to be thought of as straightforward. "Gut wrenching" were the words he used when describing the moment he heard that GEM was really considering releasing him. Sadler ultimately understood that the GEM management was seeking better performance and that the pressure is now squarely on his shoulders.

It was nice to hear Sadler talk rather openly about both his personal situation and the fact that the new GEM dynamic now includes Robbie Loomis and the former Petty car.

The post-script is that Sadler apologized to the NASCAR media for his lack of communication with them during this time period. Rather than being a legal matter, Sadler said he thought it would just be unprofessional to comment while things were still sorting themselves out.

Now that Sadler is out and speaking about the GEM situation, look for him to be on SPEED's Preseason Thunder very soon. The Trackside TV series begins on Monday, January 19th on SPEED and Sadler will no doubt be returning to his old stomping grounds to continue his campaign of patching things up with the fans.

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NASCAR's Dirty Little Secret: Few Trucks For SPEED

All three of NASCAR's national touring series are having the same tough economic time as the rest of the nation. Sponsors are gone and funding is tight as Speedweek in Daytona is less than forty days away.

While several websites, including, have a profile of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams that plan to race in 2009, the picture for the Camping World Truck Series is not so clear.

TDP has been following the TV telecasts of the truck series for the past two seasons. The team at SPEED has consistently presented some of the most compelling live racing coverage ever seen in the sport.

As has been documented many times, SPEED comes into the races with far less equipment and focuses on the action on the track with a small but dedicated team of TV pros. The results are simply fun to watch.

Now, the reality of the challenges facing NASCAR where the trucks are concerned for 2009 has been documented in a mainstream media publication. Scene Daily staff writer Jared Turner penned a short commentary addressing the truck series issue in a very straightforward manner. Here is an excerpt:

Let’s start with a theory that is actually more like a fact: For a racing series to be optimally competitive, it must first have enough competitors. Sounds simple enough, right?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple fix to the waning participation haunting the newly named NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Barely a month away from the start of the 15th season for NASCAR’s No. 3 series, you can count the number of Truck drivers with confirmed full-time rides on two hands. And the number of drivers with a confirmed full-time primary sponsor is even fewer.

So what does this dearth-of-sponsorship-induced madness mean for the series that has traditionally produced some of NASCAR’s most colorful characters and electrifying competition?

It means that while there will certainly be more than seven or eight trucks on the grid for the series opener at Daytona on Feb. 12, don’t expect there to anywhere near a full 36-truck field at the majority of the 25 scheduled races.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Turner finally stepped forward and introduced a topic that should get a response from NASCAR rather quickly. While fans have a pretty good idea about the overall health of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, the condition of the patient where the trucks are concerned is being kept very quiet.

SPEED has invested a lot of time and effort where the Camping World Truck Series is concerned. That is the only NASCAR series carried from start-to-finish on the network. SPEED is both a blessing and a curse to NASCAR.

The blessing is the weekend dedication to the sport when SPEED carries the pre and post-race programming for the Sprint Cup weekends. Over the past several years, SPEED has also carved-out a niche as the home of well-produced qualifying and practice coverage for all three national touring series.

The curse is that SPEED is distributed on digital cable TV packages that cost more and the network is also right in the middle of a transition to High Definition. Many NASCAR fans don't have SPEED and those that do want it in HD.

NASCAR has been very quiet on the pending problems with the trucks and Turner's commentary is a good launching pad for tackling the reality of this issue. Whether or not there is a point at which the truck series may actually suspend operations for 2009 is yet to be seen.

After racing in Daytona, the truck teams will turn and make the very long run to the California Speedway for a race the very next weekend. That may be the first true indication of just how healthy the series will be for NASCAR, truck series fans and SPEED.

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